The body of a boy, believed to be a gaming-addicted teenager who has been missing since he ran away from his Barrie, Ontario, home more than three weeks ago, was found today not far from where the boy was last seen.
Brandon Crisp, 15, ran away on Oct. 13, when his parents took his beloved Xbox away, and he has not been seen or heard from since.
Barrie Police Service Sgt. Dave Goodbrand said a deer hunter came across the body near a trail in a town north of Barrie, and the coroner has been on the scene since early afternoon.
"At this point we believe it to be Brandon, but we can't confirm," Goodbrand said.
Brandon's father, Steve Crisp, told ABC News today that his son was dead and "it's over."
In response to the boy's disappearance, Microsoft Canada had chipped in $25,000 Canadian toward a reward for help in finding Crisp. The Microsoft donation matched the $25,000 Canadian raised by local organizations. The reward totaled $41,776 in U.S. dollars.
The outgoing message on the Crisps' answering machine was still targeted to Brandon this afternoon, pleading with him to come home or contact the authorities.
"We need to know you're safe," Steve Crisp said on the message. "We love you dearly."
The teen had once been a competitive hockey player who got good grades and enjoyed video games with his friends in typical teenage fashion, his father told ABCNews.com Tuesday, and the 10th grader's disappearance on Oct. 13, Canada's Thanksgiving holiday, has left the family sick with worry.
When the family signed up about a year ago for a subscription to Xbox Live, which allows players to interact with gamers all over the world, Brandon's hobby turned into an obsession that ultimately led to his fleeing his Barrie home after his father took away the system for good, his father said.
"We'd be asleep and he'd be up at two or three in the morning, playing this thing," Crisp said before today's discovery, adding that they also had a hard time getting him to leave the game to eat dinner with the family.
On Friday, Oct. 10, the Crisps learned the boy, whose grades were slipping, had skipped school the day before, and they decided to take away his Xbox temporarily, as they had about 20 times before, Steve Crisp said. But when Crisp saw that Brandon had found the system and resumed playing it while his father was out fishing that weekend, he said he decided to take it away permanently.
"He was very angry," Crisp said. When the father and son sat down to talk about Brandon's obsession with the system, the game "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" in particular, Brandon's response was "OK, I'm going to leave home then."
Calling his son's bluff, Crisp said he advised him to take warm clothes when he saw Brandon loading things into a backpack. He then watched as his only son rode away on his bicycle. The family, which includes Brandon's twin sister and older sister, figured he'd blow off some steam with friends and be back that evening.
"I didn't think anyone would run off for a game," Crisp said.
The Last Sighting
Brandon was last seen on a heavily traveled trail around 5:45 p.m. that evening. There has been no trace of him since. His bicycle was found that night with a flat tire.
Police, with Microsoft Canada's cooperation, had looked into who Brandon may have come in contact with through "Call of Duty 4," despite privacy laws to protect gamers.
"At this point the investigation would lead us to believe there is no connection to the Xbox," Goodbrand said yesterday.
Microsoft Canada issued a statement, saying, ""Like everyone, we are deeply worried about the disappearance of Brandon Crisp. Law enforcement has contacted Microsoft about this matter and we are cooperating fully with them. We are unable to comment further on the nature of our cooperation because of the ongoing investigation.
"As has been reported, Microsoft has matched the existing reward of $25,000 for information leading to Brandon's return," the statement continued. "Our thoughts are with Brandon, his family and his community and we hope for his swift return."
Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment about why the company contributed to the reward.
When You Just Can't Stop
Gaming addiction has seen a rise in the last several years, especially among male teens and young men, according to Coleen Moore, coordinator of resource development at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery in Peoria, Ill.
The gaming addicts typically treated at the institute in both inpatient and outpatient programs are teens between the ages of 16 and 18 and men between 20 and 24.
Moore said Brandon was not the first teen to become addicted to Xbox Live, a system that she said more and more people in the institute's programs are mentioning.
"The big thing that is the draw that these guys talk about it being able to create their own personas and compete with others all over the world," she said.
Gaming addiction progresses like any other addiction, until the person is obsessed with creating the feeling of euphoria the gaming brings, she said. Some addicts spend up to 20 hours a day gaming, and Moore said one patient remembered turned to cocaine as a stimulant to keep playing.
Moore, who was not familiar with Brandon's case, said the teen seemed to have the typical progression of addiction, but that his parents did exactly the right thing in setting limits and trying to strike a balance between entertainment and obsession.
But if the teens are not able to stick with those limits, she said, "I would suggest they get some type of professional help."
Moore said she was surprised, but pleased that Microsoft Canada put up reward money since the industry has typically shied away from addressing the problems of gaming addiction.
"I'm kind of dumbfounded," she said. "They don't have any responsibility to whether or not someone becomes addicted to it."
In trying to find Brandon, the Crisps and police had appealed to the local media and, in return, have gotten nationwide interest in his case. He was also featured in a segment of Fox's "America's Most Wanted" television show.
Goodbrand said the entire situation was very strange, noting that Brandon was a good student and came from a good family.
"He's not a typical runaway," he said.